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- Posted on Mar 10th 2010 6:37PM by James Rawls
Who is Chico Mann?
Chico Mann has become my alter ego. It was basically the name that I put to the aesthetic I work under. It's from that movie 'Wild Style.' It's a classic hip-hop movie; one of those early hip-hop cultural references.
How would you describe your music?
I call it Afro-freestyle and electro-Afrobeat. It's a new genre I'm trying to create. It's electro drum rhythms and freestyle drum rhythms, each informed by Afrobeat. It's an expression of uniquely American music in the sense that it has all these different elements hooked together in one stew. In that sense, it's also very urban, very Latin and very multicultural in that it draws from African and funk music.
How did you get into music?
I'm from a musical family. My dad was a record producer. Piano lessons, guitar, the whole thing. My mom also was very musical. She composed some of the tunes my dad's artists recorded. As for the industry, I didn't become a pro until about 2001-2002. I was playing with an Afrobeat group. Martin [Perna], who started Antibalas, had a jam session. I believe it was every Sunday night. I used to go and play with them. Over time, I met and played with all the members of the group. One of my close friends was their tour manager and sound engineer. They were playing one night and I went to see them. They needed a last-minute guitarist and I was sitting there. So I was thrown into the fire. It was pretty random. After a few months, I became a part of the group.
And, if music hadn't worked out?
I can't really imagine doing anything else, only because I had an extremely musical life. I was a teacher for a while, though. I did it for about four years and realized I wasn't really cut out for it. This was around 9/11, so I started re-examining what my priorities were.
How did your first album come about?
It all sorta came about because my daughter and I were messing around with these Casio keyboards from my childhood. I would have her on the weekends and it was a fun thing to do. We started recording and we had so much fun that we just kept going. It opened up a new world of spontaneity for me. I had been a songwriter before and was always agonizing over lyrics. This electronic project was refreshing. My only parameters were that everything had to be spontaneous and fun.
Who inspires you musically?
The most obvious is Fela [Kuti]. Also Celia Cruz, James Brown, Lisa Lisa, even some obscure freestyle people whose names I don't always know. And my friends. They definitely inspire me.
What can a newbie expect from a performance?
They should expect to move their ass. Move! I talk about the math of the music, the rhythms. It's all designed to make your ass move. And once your body is moving, your mind is ready to accept the musical transitions that are coming.
What's your biggest vice?
It's that I smoke. It's the one that has to go next. Also, I stay up all night a lot. I do it sometimes without even thinking about it. And then when you have to get up early the next morning, it's crazy.
What's in your festival survival kit?
Lots of water and earplugs.
Who was your first celeb crush?
It was probably Farrah Fawcett. Or maybe even some of the 'Solid Gold' dancers. They were pretty hot.
What's your musical guilty pleasure?
I can't really think of anything. Everything on my playlist has gotta be good to be there. I don't have room for fluff. But I will admit that Lady Gaga is a guilty pleasure.
You've always wanted to collaborate with ...?
Oh, Fela. I've been thinking about recording a Fela song. It would be epic for me; to try and give it a completely different treatment. He was pretty experimental, but I wonder if he would have allowed the electronic elements in one of his songs. It would be cool to do one with Willie Colon, also, because he's had such an impact on Latin music throughout the world, especially the New York scene.
Beatles or Stones?
I would say that in my youth it was the Beatles. As I've gotten older, it's the Stones because the Stones were able to constantly evolve and the fact they're still going is remarkable. Add that to their own stories and personas. It's so rich. You may not know this, but there are moments in a Chico Mann song where I'm thinking of Mick Jagger, even though you may not recognize it.
What's the craziest thing you've experienced while on tour?
Probably watching these two women attack my friend and the bus driver in Glasgow[, Scotland]. They beat them up because they were laughing at a fight that was happening between a mom and her son. The mom's girlfriend was there. My friends were laughing because they were all so drunk. When the girlfriend noticed, she and the mom started attacking my friend and bus driver. They were all scratched up.
How will you be spending your SXSW free time?
We're going to be doing some recording while I'm there. I'm going there as Chico Mann, but I'm also playing with a group called Ocote. I haven't had a chance to see the schedule but I'm sure there are tons of people I want to see. I'm definitely curious to see Dam-Funk while there.
James Rawls is a contributor from Seed.com. Learn how you can contribute here.